technology


Many of us have hard drives full of pictures we’ve taken with our fancy digital cameras. Those cameras can take pictures fast, and it’s easy to amass considerable collections. But how do you find that one picture you took of that one thing way back when? A filename search won’t likely help you– they’re all of the format DSC-3343.JPG. Even Google Desktop can’t help because not even Google can read /understand images (at least not yet.)

If computers can’t directly read an image, people have to look at the image and annotate it. This annotation process of associating meta information to an image is called tagging*, or keywording. Currently the tagging input interface for many photo web sites (like Flickr) is a simple text box; select the picture and type in the keywords. There must be a better way.

Enter a new free online service Phototaggr (currently for Firefox only.) Phototaggr (in beta) adds a bit of intelligence to the keywording process: auto-completion, thesaurus, ‘auto-tagging’, custom dictionaries, simultaneous image tagging, 3rd party photo site integration (Flickr), and wizards for popular subjects.

So, to answer the original question (how do I find an image from within a collection), you’d need to upload your photos into Flickr albums, download the albums to Phototaggr, tag the images using the Phototaggr workbench and then sync the keywords back to Flickr. Then you can use the Flickr search to find your pictures! (You can also search with Phototaggr.) Not beautiful, but for a bridge technology*, it’s a step forward.

So, load up Firefox and go try your hand at image tagging/keywording with Phototaggr.

* Manual image tagging is an example of a “bridge technology,” which is a temporary technology which fills a need until a more robust technology (automatic keywording) is developed.

apple-iphone-in-hand.jpgThe fact that I don’t own an iPhone doesn’t prevent me from caring about my blog-readers who do. I care *so* much, I went ahead and installed a nifty iPhone wordpress plugin to optimize this blog for them (when they view it through that phone of theirs.) So, if you have an iPhone (which means 1- you’re single, 2- you’re paid too much, or 3- you have no concept of money), go ahead and fire ‘er up and point the browser this-a-way. You’ll find nothin’ but love on RBDN for ya!

drivesme.JPGAny driver who grew up in one state but now resides in a different one will believe the natives of his current state to be the worst drivers anywhere. Californians who now live in Utah think Utahns are the worst drivers; Texans who live in Ohio think Ohioans are the worst drivers; Georgians who live in New Jersey think New Jerseyans are the worst drivers. But the fact is, generally speaking, drivers are about the same everywhere: some good ones, and a lot of bad ones. Now is the part where you post a comment saying, “But [state of choice] drivers really ARE the worst drivers!!” Just know that I’m not listening, because you’re wrong.

–Eric D. Snider

The problem with driving is not Utah drivers or California drivers or even drivers from Montana. The problem with driving is drivers. It’s the octogenarian in the fast lane putting along at 35MPH. It’s the cellphone-chatting-soccer-mom careening her minivan through all lanes of traffic to make an exit. It’s the semi-trucks who travel three abreast, forming a 65MPH roadblock.

Again, the problem with driving is people.

Of all the broken promises of technology, the automobile, with its persistent lack of innovation, never fails to disappoint. If Henry Ford were to come back to life he could climb inside a 2007 car and feel right at home. Nothing much has changed in his invention in the last 100 years. Cars still use regular gasoline. They still have internal combustion engines and they still get about 20MPG (actually, the 1908 Model T Ford got upwards of 30MPG.) Sure, there have been a few, token upgrades to automobile technology (such as fuel injection and air-conditioning), but nothing really revolutionary. Where are the electric vehicles we were promised? Where are the hovering space-cars? At the very least, we should be able, in the 21st century, to eliminate traffic jams.

Current wisdom suggests we build wider, more complicated roads to ease traffic congestion. I think that approach is short-sighted. There must be a better way. How about eliminating human drivers altogether. Just as most of us prefer email (routed by computers) to regular/snail mail (still routed largely by people), we’d all profit from a system where cars were not human driven.

Imagine this scenario: you program where you’d like to go into your car, and then divert your attention to something else– perhaps a nap, perhaps a book. You car computes the optimal path to your destination considering the current road conditions before guiding itself onto the freeway. Your car zips along, just inches away from the other cars, but that’s ok, because computers have much faster reaction times than people. Cars that break down are quickly shuttled to the side of the road and a tow truck is automatically summoned. These new super-cars calculate how much gas they need for a trip before starting, and fill themselves up at service stations (so there will no longer be broken-down cars to the side of the road out of gas.) If you like, you can even ask for a scenic trip and you’ll get routed to less-used back roads, where you can slow your speed and appreciate the view, all without interfering with others or ever laying your hand on a steering wheel.

What do you think? Are you with me?

nolaptop.jpgTalk of the Nations on NPR today interviewed Georgetown University law professor David Cole on his decision to ban laptops from his classroom. David wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post on Saturday describing the circumstances and effects of his no-laptop policy.

Says David,

Note-taking on a laptop encourages verbatim transcription. The note-taker tends to go into stenographic mode and no longer processes information in a way that is conducive to the give and take of classroom discussion. Because taking notes the old-fashioned way, by hand, is so much slower, one actually has to listen, think and prioritize the most important themes.

and,

In addition, laptops create temptation to surf the Web, check e-mail, shop for shoes or instant-message friends. That’s not only distracting to the student who is checking Red Sox statistics but for all those who see him, and many others, doing something besides being involved in class.

To back this up David states

95 percent admitted that they use their laptops in class for “purposes other than taking notes, such as surfing the Web, checking e-mail, instant messaging and the like.” Ninety-eight percent reported seeing fellow students do the same.

The results for David’s classroom experiment? according to an anonymous survey he conducted six weeks into the semester:

About 80 percent reported that they are more engaged in class discussion when they are laptop-free. Seventy percent said that, on balance, they liked the no-laptop policy.

nolaptop2.jpgAt the University of Utah, where I have been an MBA student for the past two and 1/2 years, laptops are required for all students and are therefore seen in nearly every class. Recently however, a few teachers have asked us to shut them down after the end of classroom administrivia (assignments, announcements, scheduling etc) which is about 15 minutes into class.

Initially I was irked at this change. Though, shifting perspective, when teaching at UVSC I’ve had to teach students who had laptops open and I can attest how annoying that is from the professor’s point of view. It isn’t uncommon to have to repeat a question in order to get a response from the distracted students. Of course, for you non-academics, the immediate parallel to the classroom setting is in company meetings and that brings us to the question of the day, Should laptops be banned from company meetings?

I’ll summarize some more arguments for and against laptop bans in classes/meetings.

For the Ban

  • Class time is for discussion and listening, not transcription of notes from professor to student. Professors should provide class notes.
  • Laptops are the equivalent of taking a “bookshelf, mailbox, newspapers and a board game” to class, as such they are major distractions.
  • “Doing five things at once on the laptop, students miss out on the unique educational experience of college, where the student’s sole responsibility is to learn as much as possible.”*
  • Something about writing notes forces the brain to work and results in better comprehension.

Against the Ban

  • Banning laptops just means the added annoyance of typing class notes after class.
  • Students are able to contribute better to class discussion by bringing in material from the web
  • Some students have illegible handwriting, so hand writing notes doesn’t work.
  • Some jobs require students to be online and available over IM.
  • Just disable the local wireless to prevent people from surfing.
  • Some classes are highly technical in nature and not discussion-centric. Students need to be able to take down what the teacher says verbatim.
  • We have technology, we should be using it?
  • Why require laptops only to ban them?
  • College students are adults and are mature enough to make their own decisions about such matters.

What do you think?!?

No, Utah did not recently “ban keyword advertising” as Slashdot reported. They did, however, place some restrictions on it with the newly signed Trademark Protection Act. In short, companies in Utah can no longer legally buy keyword advertising on a competitor’s trademarked names. Satan’s spawn, Noni, cannot, for example, take out ads on the Devil’s vomitus, Xango. That is seen as “hijacking a trademark.”

Though I concede the value of trademarks, this Act opens the door for a particular type of exploitation: general vs specific comparison ads. Take the ever famous PC vs Mac ads. Because the word “PC” (short for personal computer and taken to mean an Intel driven computer running Windows) is general and not a trademark, Apple is free to lambast and ridicule PCs (and PC owners) all they’d like. A coalition of PC sellers in Utah, however, would be forbidden to take out Google ads on the word Apple for the purpose of airing retaliatory Mac vs PC ads. Does that seem fair?

References:

Windows PC vs Macintosh is the eternal nerd battleground. Where do your opinions lie? I’ve listed 13 statements. Rank each one based on how much you agree or disagree.

When you’re done, feel free to comment on this post and let me know:

  • Why do you use a Macintosh?
  • Why do you not use a Macintosh?
  • Why do you think one is better than the other?
  • Do you use both?
  • What type of consumer do Macintosh computers appeal to?
  • Is Apple’s marketing effective?

[viewsurvey]

logo_auto_xprize.gifMaybe you’ve heard of the nonprofit X Prize Foundation? They’re the organization that doles out multi-million dollar awards to the first team to achieve a specific goal, set by the X PRIZE Foundation, which has the potential to benefit humanity. Not too long ago they awarded $10 million to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for the flight of SpaceShipOne, “the first privately built vehicle that could safely haul a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers to the edge of space — then repeat the feat within two weeks.”

Well, the X PRIZE folks are back at it again. This time a cash purse will be awarded to the teams that win a long-distance stage race for clean, production-capable vehicles that exceed 100 MPG equivalent (MPGe).The goal of the Auto X Prize is to encourage people to design, build, and sell super-efficient cars that people want to buy.

RBDN strongly supports the development of ultra-efficient vehicles for several reasons:

  • Reduces pollution
  • Lessens US dependence on foreign gasoline, (or gasoline at all.)
  • Finally shut up the conspiracy theorists who claim that big oil and auto manufacturer companies prevent better (less polluting cars) from being developed or marketed.

FYI, biofuel, fuel-cell, plug-in, hybrid, and simply more efficient gas cars are all valid competition entries.

Contest Schedule


Registration [mid-2007 through early 2008]
Teams submit applications and a 5k registration fee. Teams selected based on vehicle design information and business plan.
Formal Launch Event [late 2007]
Plan Submissions [mid-2008]
Qualified Team Selection [late 2008]
Teams selected to race vehicles in Qualifying Race.
Qualification Race [early 2009]
Vehicles must prove at least 75 MPGe fuel economy and low emissions. The vehicles best overall race time will be declared Qualifying Race Winners.
Finalist Selection [mid-2009]
Teams with vehicles that successfully complete the Qualifying Race can apply for the Grand Prize Final Race.

pdficon.jpgAuto X PRIZE Draft Guidelines

I had my camera and so I took a few pictures for you to enjoy. Also, I geotagged each photo and created a googlemap with handy popups for each dot. Click the image link below to see!

geotaggingmap.jpg

MintClocky.jpg

As I am a transient (maverick?), I have had the challenge of moving a number of times in the last few years. Oddly, I have uniquely lived on top floors of buildings. The pain of moving heavy objects up and down narrow flights of stairs has not endeared me to friends who have helped me move. As a consequence, all the few furnishings in my current abode were chosen based on their portability.

This spartan lifestyle might not pay dividends now*, however it should be a cinch to leave speedily, should that need arise.

One item that didn’t make the bring-it-to-the-new-apartment cut was an alarm clock. I’m a heavy sleeper and have been known to sleep through raging tempests. In fact, I have no less than four alarm clocks which in the past I had hidden around my room. It’s very hard, I’ve learned, to sleep through a scavenger hunt.

Those clocks were left in storage, and so I have had to rely on my cellphone alarm to wake me up. That cellphone hasn’t been particularly reliable. In short, I’m in the market for a better way to wake up.

Then my friend Kevin sent me a link to an alarm clock that caught my interest. This clock “gives you one chance to get up. But if you snooze, [it] will jump off of your nightstand and wheel around your room looking for a place to hide.” Now that’s cool. (Sadly, the clock only comes in pastel colors.)

* For example, I didn’t bring my mattress into this new apartment because mattresses are incredibly hard to move, but, well, sleeping without a mattress sucks

The one person who seems to constantly read my blog (Hi Mom!) and who isn’t particularly concerned with technology speculation but who nevertheless is curious about changing trends might be interested in the following question, “what sorts of businesses are based on temporary (placeholder) technologies which will inevitably (and in the near future) be replaced by more permanent technologies?”

Here’s my list:

  • Supermarket self checkout* (inevitable technology: “push through” check out with RFID tag scanners)
  • Netflix (inevitable technology: stream media to your house)
  • Long distance calling card (inevitable technology: border-less, VOIP worldwide communications. (Deprecates timezones/country codes))

What’s on your list?

* Am I the only one who HATES those?

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